Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What is "previously published"

I'm following a large group of women writers on Facebook, and enjoy the supportive and interesting posts. Almost every day, someone posts a question regarding placing any part of their WIP online, whether it's for feedback from an online critique group, or an excerpt on their blog, as to whether or not this constitutes "previously published" and hurts their chances of ever getting a publisher. Is this true? I sure hope not, but then, I don't know, and would appreciate your thoughts.

The idea that putting something on the internet hurts your chances of getting published is WRONG.
For proof of that:

As you no doubt know, this book sold so many copies, the publisher gave every single person in the company a year end bonus (and it wasn't $12.50 either.)

There are a couple things that will help you here:

1. A publishing contract template often does say "material has not been previously published" BUT that clause can be changed or deleted as needed. Agents negotiate that stuff ALL the time.

2. Many magazines or contests prohibit previously published material from being submitted. That is DIFFERENT than selling a book in that contest submission guidelines are NOT negotiated. You have to follow them exactly. They will spell out what "previously published means" and it may vary by contest or site.

3. Some agents will not look at previously published material.  I'm one of them. When I say this, I mean books that you've offered for sale, with an ISBN on it. I do not mean books you've posted on your website for free.  If I have any questions about this, I'll ask you.

The problem with posting your work to the internet is that it falls flat. The EL James example I used above did NOT fall flat. It blew up so fast she should have used TNT not EL.

Shorthand for "your book flopped worse than spinach flavored ice cream" is "you've already published it.

And by flopped I mean: no interest, no comments, no sales. No nothing.

If you want to demonstrate your writing chops on your blog, write something for the website: book reviews, essays, odes to librarians, sonnets to booksellers, quatrains to the QueryShark. Leave your novel off your webpage.

Public critique sites can be useful, but I MUCH prefer private groups even if they only meet online. You have much more control over who sees your work, and a much better sense of the value of their input.


Marc P said...

How many Quatrains are required to get a jar of maple syrup .. if not an offer of representation?

Laura Mary said...

I wouldn't have thought it would cause problems in terms of 'previously published' however I'd be very wary about sharing work in progress or early drafts on line - you never know where or when it may surface again! I suspect my early drafts would kill a publishing career in it's tracks should any agents happen to read it (they won't, I shall burn it all!)
Or course this comes from my inner paranoia monster who won't let me share anything unless it's as close to perfect as it can get. And even then she's not happy about it.

I've noticed some of the readers here talk quite freely about their work on this blog - I'd be interested to hear others thoughts on sharing on line (if only to gauge my own crazy-levels on the matter!)

Marc P said...

Laura Mary it's bit like acting if you don;t want to get your stuff out in front of an audience.. it doesn't really work. Writing without an audience for it is like baking a big fat wedding cake that nobody eats. Jump in the water, yeah it's cold at first but you soon learn to swim or rush back up on land and realise it is not for you. Never ever mix your metaphors though. All writing is showing off - but the beauty is you can do it at a distance!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I can do quatrains. Especially for Janet. I have a tiny preview (2 pages) of my book on my blog but nothing else. And my blog has a limited audience. Like Laura, if anyone outside my workshop saw any of my early drafts, well I would already be cleaning toilets in Carkoon and on that super secret blacklist.

Off-topic comment: I love this blog. It makes my day job bearable. It really helps keep my eye on the ball during the hours I am writing computer code instead of the stories I love. And inspires me to write more when I get home, no matter how tired I am. Thanks for that, Janet and all your amazing woodland creatures.

DLM said...

I posted my Author's Note in a series a while back; it is one of those glossary style "notes" such as Colleen McCullough used for the Masters of Rome series (in several of those novels, my favorite part of the entire book ...). There's an excerpt on my sidebar and I do have an "excerpts" tag, but all this comprises significantly less than 1% of the entire blog. I even did an experimental short series a long time ago, looking at drafts and how short passages change, even took feedback.

These posts actually got some response (not that my blog has a wide audience; it does have a loyal one), which is more than I can say for a lot of what I post. It was nice, but not stupendously gratifying.

Given that The Ax and the Vase has become inventory, I'm unconcerned with these small "leaks" - and nothing from the WIP has gone up. Whether it ever will, I don't know, this isn't the sort of thing I plan, but it'd be a long way off if I did decide to excerpt.

As for sharing, I'd rather do that with readers/critical readers (Hi, Angie and Brian!) but I'm not protective of the work in the sense of fearing its being seen. As Marc points out, that's the point basically.

I miss my writing group very much these days. We have not met in far, FAR too long. I'll get to see many of them at the James River Writers conference in a few weeks; always energizing. Will probably make a point of seeking an/more individual crit partnership there ...

(James Tickenor, see you there?)

DLM said...

Hah! Just checked my blog stats - and there's a hit on one of the old Author's Notes posts. Too funny.

Laura Mary said...

Marc - I guess I have two separate 'sharing' issues here; the first is simply my own extreme discomfort with it all, however, I completely see the benefits of sharing work in a private group, and when I finally manage to get over myself, I'd like to find such a group.

My other concern sort of ties in with the post the other week with concerns over (self)publishing work before it is ready. Regardless of whether the work is published or just shared, if it's going on-line, then you're putting sub-standard writing out there with your name on it, with no control over who sees it.
There could be something in there that doesn't make your final draft, but is really off putting to an agent who googles you.

Is this me just being overly paranoid?

It's ok to say yes.

Marc P said...

Haha yes Laura Mary :) it's a bit of a cart and horse thing for me.. the whole point of it in the first place is SHARING. Online or online... maybe in a closed group. The best thing to have as a writer is confidence, and you don't learn that from being a genius, sometimes just the opposite. In essence the word that describes us all is 'Storyteller' so tell stories. Make the up and share them. The vast majority of unpublished writers worry to death about a project. Professional writers have a deadline and work to it and get the job done. 98 percent of them. Now no where near 98 percent of that material is perfect - because art never is. The way you learn is by doing it and getting it out there. If you can start with the mindset that it is that that is important and take the pressure away from writing The Great American Novel. You just might. F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway weren't tortured geniuses... they were skilled storytellers with inner demons but those inner demons weren't worrying about sharing their work, or the cocktails.

Marc P said...

As to whether it is ready... the public tell you that if you don't have the ability to judge your own ability - and it is something you learn, that ability. Look on it as a career as a lifetime process. Get started - jump in and if the first novel is rubbish make the second one better. Like the Finned Filosopher said - EL James first book was no Ulysses!*

* She might not have said that.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Marc - great advice. My workshop group was invaluable but it was nerve wracking because my early drafts are well...it's a process. And I do worry constantly about my work- always maybe just one more draft. 107 drafts later I am finally shopping the book. But boy is this scary. Some agents are sharks...

Dena Pawling said...

Janet, I'm curious why you [and/or other agents] won't look at previously published material. Is it because the editors/publishers you sell to, won't buy it?

Susan said...

I think my blood pressure goes up every time I read something new about the publishing success of those books. It's almost a visceral reaction where I find myself shaking my head and sputtering how, why. Like a sneeze. Or an allergy. I don't bemoan anyone their success, know reading's subjective, understand why it exploded the way it did, etc but it's kind of like the painting in the museum next to Monet that consists of a white canvas with a blue dot. Maybe that's another argument for another time, though...

On a related note: I know some authors who have posted their works on Wattpad and FictionPress and then went onto sell their books to publishers. Sarah J. Maas is one that immediately comes to mind--she wrote an incredible story about ten years ago called Queen of Glass that she posted to FictionPress, then sold to Bloomsbury a few years ago; it's been reworked/retitled into the Throne of Glass series. It's still fantastic (though her original Queen of Glass had a charm and some story elements that I miss), and she's spoken about how she's been able to rewrite it the way she always wanted to and give it new life, which I found interesting.

A lot more debut authors seem to be using Wattpad, too, as a larger forum for critiquing first drafts and garnering initial interest. I don't know if this is especially true for self-published writers, but a friend has used it as a platform to preview her books. These original fiction sites are interesting because there can be so much talent here. I wonder what the ratio is to those that crossover into book deals, however, and what agents thing of them, specifically.

Laura Mary said...

Dena - I *think* it's because the baggage that comes with previously published books makes them difficult to sell (sales figures etc) I'm sure Janet has spoken more on this before. I'll see if I can find the post.

Donnaeve said...

MarcP said..."Professional writers have a deadline and work to it and get the job done. 98 percent of them. Now no where near 98 percent of that material is perfect - because art never is."

Ha, exactly which is why Ann Lamott named that early work "shitty first draft," and stated that ALL writers, no matter their success, write them each and every time they sit down to work.

That always makes me feel better about the pile-o-crap I might be working on any given day.

As to previously published, I think I had an excerpt of my first book out on my blog a few years ago. I think I took it down. I think I'll go look. I think I ought to do that - right now.

Anonymous said...

I put up excerpts of my work on my blog- ONLY excerpts, not full books. They can be anywhere from 500 words to 2000 words, but I like to make sure that only edited and fully prepared work goes up there. Not much use putting up unedited work on what's essentially my public face :P

So far my readers seem to like it, so I'm happy too :)

Susan said...

EDIT: What agents *think* of them. Ugh. Too early.

Marc P: Your comment to Laura is spot-on for me, particularly since I share those insecurities. I post some of my old fiction on my website as free fiction, but these are old poems and short stories I wrote in high school/college that I have no attachment to. They're not my best work, but they're not bad, either--they serve as sort of a bridge to what I write and how I write. The blog itself is probably more indicative, come to think of it.

But then there are my books. My self-published book started out as a series of short stories on an old version of my blog, and the feedback I got from that when I wasn't doing much creative writing was encouraging. I spent about three years polishing those stories/finishing them into a book that probably wouldn't exist without sharing them first.

I don't share my draft fiction regularly anymore--sometimes some excerpts from WIPs but that's rare--because I have friends who can provide the feedback I need and there's a sense of freedom in being able to make changes without having the originals up there to compare it to.

Craig F said...

I apologize for continuing this tangent but...

Decent Agents (not the money grubbers) probably want to see authors and writers who are growing into their full flower. Don't worry about the crap you have experimented with. It might be more important as a guide to how you have grown. Of course you will not query until your work is polished to a high gloss. But what if your agent likes a satin that shows the grain in all kinds of light? If they both to go back and look they might be able to smile at those experimental skeletons because they see that you can grow and change. You are open to expanding your horizons. It might help because they can believe you are not a one hit wonder.

Leah B said...

Laura Mary - I have severe anxiety problems, so I understand what you mean about the paranoia monster. Anything I write (even texts) gets read and reread and deleted about five times before I post/send. But like Marc P said, eventually you have to put it out there. If you wait for it to be perfect, you'll be dead. And how will you spend your advance money when you're dead?

I joined one of the many writer sites to get my query critiqued, found another writer with a query I was interested in, we chatted a bit back and forth about our writing, then I asked her to marry me. I mean, be my beta reader.

I probably would've had a much easier time asking her to marry me, to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Years ago one of the members of my World of Warcraft guild used to post some wonderful fan fiction. He also wrote some great zombie fiction he called Plague of the Dead: The Morning Star Strain that he posted installments on his blog. He got such a following in the horror world Permuted Press offered to publish it. He had to take down all of his Plague installments on his blog.

He did so well with Permuted, Simon and Schuster noticed him and bought out their rights so they could republish the books.

Sometimes it works. Most of the time, it doesn't. For one thing, novels are ever changing as we fiddle them into more polished versions.

Diana Gabaldon posts bits of both her published and pre-published novels all the time. The published bits she posts to demonstrate some writing technique or the other. Someone will ask on Books and Writers how to show an elided POV for instance, or underpainting a scene, writing anger, etc. She'll take a scene from the book and then break it completely down, showing why she placed everything like she did. It's a fascinating learning experience.

Her pre-published stuff she just posts, with copious spoiler warnings, as treats for people who are foaming at the mouth to know when the next book is coming out. Usually they don't really have spoilers, but she has to warn people liberally this is from the new book so they don't get rabid.

It's a remarkable marketing ploy. People sit on the edge of their seats waiting for a few scraps from the new book. She tries to maintain a very good relationship with her fans.

Sometimes, very seldom, it works for an unpublished writer to publish bits of their work online in hopes of generating a following.

Published writers are another story. Fans love to be included in the journey it seems. They like to be part of the family.

What the heck do I know? I'm having an affair with a computer voice.

DLM said...

Leah B, it can be as tricky a relationship, especially in the beginning!

This question really isn't about whether to post excerpts etc.

At bottom, it comes down to the usual woodland fear - is there an evil magical mistake I can make that will RUIN MY CHANCES FOREVER AND EVER?

We seek obstacles and deal-breakers with, if possible, more vim than people do in the search for romance. Desperation breeds peril, and we see ways to kill ourselves off before we ever begin behind every tree. It's paralyzing enough, and anxiety issues double-down on the horror. We see publishing as a puzzle perhaps without a solution, every wrong move a potentially fatal one, and each moving part the next opportunity to destroy ourselves professionally.

It's a shame, because as Janet has said before, we are not beggars. It is writers who bring to the table everything that makes the feast. The seats here are not each and every one the Siege Perilous.

Agents and publishers WANT US at the table. You know your casserole is tasty. Bring it. If you let someone taste it in the kitchen, it won't be less welcome. If you put it in a covered dish and reveal it only at the magic moment everyone sits down, that's good too.

Write, query, keep writing, keep querying. Or self-publish. Revise and edit and redact. A crapload. Have a cocktail now and then, if that suits you.

You almost certainly are not doing anything WRONG as long as you're not too Special a Snowflake, or carrying around a back of rocks, or biting people.

Anonymous said...

An agent suggested I make a map to go with my epic fantasy. I think I'll use this one.

Trust me, my map did not turn out nearly this well.

DLM said...

Julie, that is dazzling, thank you for the link. Glorious, the trips you can take.

Pharosian said...

What a phenomenal map! Love it! I could spend a lot of time studying that, I think. It's gorgeous.

Susan said...

Julie: Thanks for sharing the map--it's beautiful!

DLM: I love your food metaphor.

Also, this: "We see publishing as a puzzle perhaps without a solution, every wrong move a potentially fatal one, and each moving part the next opportunity to destroy ourselves professionally."

It's a puzzle with a thousand different ways to put the pieces together, and even then you might end up with a different result because there are either too many pieces or not enough, and you'll never know what the end result is supposed to be because someone threw away the box cover.

That's what's so frustrating, and why I think writers are confused and insecure when it comes to publishing. You have incredible agents like Janet who help you make sense of those pieces for your greatest chance of success, so you toil away at the tenth circle of hell that is query-letter writing in the hopes that you can put together one small corner and get a glimpse of the picture. Then you have others like 50 Shades who seem to buck that and come to the table with the pieces all askew, but somehow it makes some semblance of a picture, and that seems to be enough.

I lost the metaphor there somewhere. Basically, I think the fact that there's no right or wrong way feeds the self-doubt. When the right step doesn't seem to work, it's not a stretch to wonder if the wrong step can be that fatal one.

BJ Muntain said...

I'd like to comment that, by sharing 'online', most people are meaning publicly.

There are online critique groups that are private, password-controlled groups, like Julie's B&W group, or OWW (Online Writer's Workshop). Even contests and magazines/e-zines don't consider these previously published.

The reason short story markets usually refuse publicly posted stories is because readers are less likely to buy a short story they can find for free online. Novels are different.

Laura Mary: I find it hard to talk about my fiction to anyone but my critique partners. I can trust them, because I've seen theirs. Good stuff, bad stuff, we've shared it.

Once it's as perfect as I can make it, I'm willing to share it with agents or editors in the querying process. Or, in regards to short stories, I'm ready to share it with possible markets.

As for the folks saying no one would publish them if they saw the first drafts: bull paddies.

EVERYONE's first draft is crap. And if you really want to share your first draft, just make sure you label it as your first draft, and everyone in the publishing industry will understand.

You're not going to query your first drafts. You're going to query completed, polished, edited works. As long as you're not querying your first drafts, no one in the publishing industry is going to care how crappy they are.

That's not to say that you *should* share your first draft. I never would, simply because I tend to be shy. Notice I specifically said 'everyone in the publishing industry', because folks outside of that industry or who aren't writers won't understand that a first draft is meant to be crap, and they are the ones who would lambaste you.

Colin Smith said...

That is a cool map, Julie. Thanks for sharing!

I've thought long and hard about putting my work online. On the one hand, I like the immediate feedback. But when I think a bit longer, do I really want any kind of immediate feedback? What kind of feedback am I looking for? People to tell me how wonderful I am? To tell me what an awesome writer I am? Agents writing to tell me they just read the last Flash Friday post and they want to represent me for anything I write? In honesty, are we not just looking for positive affirmation? Someone to say, "Yes, you can write!" Most of the time, no-one's going to comment saying, "Yeah, nice idea but your writing sucks." More likely, they won't say anything. And zero comments can be as disheartening as one lackluster comment.

Simon Cowell said something very interesting in an interview I saw the other day. I looked for a clip online and couldn't find it. If I come across it, I'll post it on my blog. Anyhow, the question was about talent contests and where he thinks they are going wrong. He said the problem with most talent contests is that you have singers being judged by singers, and that's not fair. Established singers are never going to give young up-and-coming singers a fair break, because they're looking at the competition. This new, talented young singer could be replacing professional singer in a year's time. No matter how generous and magnanimous the judge is, s/he is always going to look at the contestant as a rival. That's why he feels, as an A&R guy--someone who seeks out talent for his label, he is a much better judge of talent. He is genuinely looking for what he considers the best.

This made me think about writing contests. I've never been asked to judge a writing contest, so I don't know how closely Cowell's theory applies. But I have to say, it makes sense to me. This is why Janet's contests, and any contest judged by agents and editors are more valuable than contests judged by writers. Not to say writer-judged contests aren't fun, and certainly a boost to the confidence if you win or get a special nod. But agents and editors come to the table as non-writers who spend their lives looking for writing talent to publish. When they see something special in your work, heck yes you can be pleased. The fact that the agent who discovered Patrick Lee and Gary Corby thought my writing was good enough to be a finalist or win a contest gives me a lot of confidence when I'm staring at a blank screen wondering if I'm wasting my time.

I'm not sure if all of the above is really on-topic. But there you go. One of the advantages of being a High School teacher on Carkoon--how much worse can my punishment get? Perhaps I shouldn't ask... :-O

Anonymous said...

"EVERYONE's first draft is crap. And if you really want to share your first draft, just make sure you label it as your first draft, and everyone in the publishing industry will understand."

I keep hearing this and I have to disagree. I know some writers who fiddle endless with their work before they move on. They may spend all day writing one paragraph.

Diana Gabaldon and Beth Shope are two. They don't write "first drafts". They continue to work on it until they are completely satisfied before they move on. Some writers can't do the crappy first draft thing.

I've beta read all of Beth's fantasy and made suggestions here and there, but it's 99.9 there when beta readers get the chunks. At this point I pretty much just comment about what my reaction to a scene is as a reader to try and earn my keep a little.

A group of us rented a house in Myrtle Beach for a writer's retreat. I was piled on one end of a couch, another writer on the other end. Jo Bourne on another couch. Two writers at a nearby table. Dead silence aside from the gentle key-tapping.

Jo says, "I need some help." She reads a passage she's working on from her new book. The mc has snared a rabbit because she's starving She has a wonderful description of the rabbit. She doesn't know whether she should keep the scene. We're all in love with it and demand she keep it, which she did. She probably would have even without the peanut gallery, Jo is a discerning author, so really no credit to us.

However, the "crappy first draft scene" was word-for-word what appeared in the published novel.

Granted, I think these birds are rare and most authors need a good editor, best selling mega stars included, (maybe them most of all because they think their words are sacrosanct) but some authors do very well the first time.

I am not one of them, though I have to admit the scene with Pinkerton agent Jeremy Reid and his great aunt Janet Reid who is hiding a confederate spy under her hoop skirts turned out quite well. Sorry, Janet. It had to be done.

Theresa said...

Julie, thank you for this about lousy first drafts. I have difficulty with that term "first draft" because I don't write complete from start to finish, and go back and rewrite. I write in chapters, returning frequently to one to rework it until I'm satisfied enough to move on. Sometimes entire sections survive in tact from beginning to end. Sometimes not. When I have a version I like (or at least am comfortable with), I try to find someone willing to read it. I can't imagine posting any part of a WIP online, but I love Janet's advice on blogging.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@Julie, I love it —Pinkerton agent Jeremy Reid and his great aunt Janet Reid who is hiding a confederate spy under her hoop skirts turned out quite well. The map is to die for. I hope the artist gets some work through his example and that he has a good agent to rep him.

@Susan, Imagine my surprise when my friend gave me what I thought was a spy novel and instead it was 50 Shades. I'd never read erotica, didn't know it existed. E L hit a bone. Everywhere you go in France, 50 shades is present, still today. I went to a department store that didn't have a book department but right in the main door next to the escalator there it was, in stacks. Every train station and airport bookstore has 50 Shades prominently placed.

Posting work on line, I've posted flash fiction on my blog. Some of it's painful but they were my first efforts doing FF back in 2010 when I did Write1Sub1.

Donnaeve said...

I had to delete my crappy first comment b/c I couldn't edit it. LOL!

What I said just moments ago (now edited):

I think we're getting down into the weeds a bit worrying over the semantics of the the term "crappy (or shitty) first draft." I still think everyone writes crappy first drafts, no matter how much it's re-worked before they move on. If it wasn't crappy when you first wrote that sentence, paragraph or chapter...what was it? Perfect? Sure, sometimes we get one like that and feel no need to change it. Mostly, we feel the need to tweak it endlessly - right? Before moving on?

Actually, this is how I work, in general as well. I'll nitpick over something until the cows come home before I leave it alone. It must be bleeding before I let it go rest and recover. However, when it's done? I.e. when I type The End? What do I do? Go back and read it all over again (many times) and continue to pick at it, hopefully improving it.

My one cent - for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...


The difference is, when people like Diana and Beth type "The End", they don't go back and read it over from the beginning to see what can be improved. There isn't a version 1, 2, 3, 49, etc. They finish and hit send to their agents and or editors.

Some people can do this. I'm guessing very few. Regardless, the idea that EVERYONE writes crappy first drafts is false. The first draft, I assume, is the first completed draft of the book.

Donnaeve said...

Yeah, wish I could write like that for sure. Course I loved Ann Lamott's book BIRD BY BIRD where I read about these "shitty" first drafts and figured since she said it, it was true.

But, I wonder...does that first draft Diane/Beth send to their agents/editors fly? I mean, does it get accepted just as it is? Cause then, oh boy yep, I'd feel the need to bow down to those writing skills.

BJ Muntain said...

But Julie, if it's been rewritten - even on a paragraph by paragraph basis - then it's no longer a first draft. As you said, "They don't write 'first drafts'."

Diana gave a wonderful keynote speech at the Calgary conference in August, where she actually went through her writing process, following her thoughts as she wrote a paragraph, word by word, and it was absolutely beautiful. She even pretended to type, there on the table in front of her, and when she went back to change something, she would backspace. And the paragraph she wound up with was yes, nicely polished.

I draft longhand, because I get more creativity out of my soul when I write with a pencil. It's like drawing a story. So anything of mine that gets seen online wouldn't be a first draft. I always edit when I type something into an electronic format.

But my point was that an agent wouldn't refuse to represent someone because of the state of their first draft posted online, no matter how awful it seems to the author (as long as it was made clear that it was a first draft, and that the novel being queried has been polished.) They only care about the finished product.

Me, though, I would only post my work publicly if I had a darned good reason. I've got something I'm going to post publicly soon, but I wrote it specifically for that purpose. Anything I want to get published either in novel or short story form won't be posted publicly before it's published.

Regarding Colin's thoughts about why some do post their work publicly online: Maybe they are trying to get input that way, and if that works for them, cool. Me, I've got two writing groups and a beta reader or two. I get lots of input. And if I find I need more, I'll probably go to private online critique groups. I'm not sure I could handle as much input as one would get making one's work public. I'll keep to the people I trust.

John Frain said...

Long before Anne Lamott (who I love) talked about "shitty first drafts," some guy named Hemingway was given credit many times over for saying "the first draft of anything is shit."

I'm certainly not going to go on record as doubting anyone on this blog -- especially Julie who has invited me to sit on her front porch and just listen to her wax on about anything from soup to nuts to horses -- but if you continue to work on something before you move on, then you're creating your revisions as you go. It's a different style, but when they type The End, it seems that they've already gone beyond their first draft.

I wonder how many times Hemingway drafted his six-word story? Then again, it's probably apocryphal.

Donnaeve said...

Well, now I can be accused of being in the weeds, but John, you made my point - only you did a better job.

That's what I was trying to say - the fact that they are changing it as they go. And BJ said it too. It's a matter of how they work, and how others might work. I still view my work as a shitty first draft - even after I've edited it. So. There's that too.

Anonymous said...

John and Donna,

I understand what you're saying.

We've had this discussion on Books and Writers many times because invariably a fan or a new writer will pop up and ask Diana how many drafts she goes through before she gets to the final draft that goes to the agent and then how many rewrites before it goes to the editor?

Over the course of twenty years, I've watched this discussion a lot.

She responds she doesn't because she works with each sentence until she's satisfied before moving on. Since she's a chunk writer, she may have to do some adjusting when she puts the pieces together to smooth out the edges, but she doesn't rewrite things. When she types The End off to the editor it goes. The first completed draft IS the final draft.

It doesn't mean every word she writes is golden. It just means she works on every passage the first time before she moves on

I guess you could say the first draft of this sentence is crappy.

But, I know I've seen agents say don't send me your first draft of anything.

What happens in the case of writers like these?

They type The End and don't submit because this is their first draft?

Colin Smith said...

Julie: How would an agent know it isn't the first draft? If you've labored Gabaldonian style, so your first draft is as polished as it can be, then you submit it. The agent shouldn't be any the wiser that there are no other drafts, lest you tell him or her. The "first draft" is the roughest, crappiest version of your novel. If that's not the way you work, then you don't have a "first draft" so whatever you submit isn't by definition a first draft! :)

There was a first draft of this comment, and I deleted it because it was rough and crappy.

Donnaeve said...

My head doth spinneth.


I really liked this discussion, in truth! My husband would have left the room long ago to go find a drink. Which is what I'm going to do now.

Cheers all!

Janet Reid said...

Julie julie julie, that map!!!

Oh my godiva THAT MAP!!!

Did you know there is a book?
Well, yes, I do know there is a book and I have ordered TWO.
One for ME ME ME.

And I think one for a contest.
Unless I get greedy and keep one for each eye.


(I am not only NOT a robot, I'm not even a human! So ther Captcha!)

Anonymous said...


Yep. The point being some writers do revise constantly as they write so the first draft is also the final draft.

I can't because sometimes it hits me and I just need to get it down. I'm certainly not egotistical enough to think I don't need to revise numerous times.

Craig F said...

The only thing that writers have in common is a basic kernel of talent. After that there are no rules because we all have to develop that talent in our own way. Most everyone here is still somewhere in that process and have to work at it in the way that is most comfortable to them.

I can not imagine anyone who has it together enough that they can sit down, after doing their research and basic layout, and spit out a 100,000 word novel. Maybe someday my basic kernel of talent will bloom into something approaching that but I doubt it.

I have moved whole chapters around because they fit better somewhere else in a story, even though it was all outlined and flagged, sometimes I end up moving them back. I can also get so wrapped up in something that I lose words. Some days new words show up and change the last two paragraphs.

I think most people have a shitty first draft often. Maybe when your talent reaches its stride things get easier. I'll let you know if I ever figure it out.

John Frain said...

Oh, Julie, the map. I just closed my eyes, called a guy from Mayflower Moving & Storage and escaped to my new place.

A little cottage on the southern tip of Mystery, overlooking the Sea of Epilogues. Y'all come visit anytime. The lighthouse offers a view you time it right, the sun leaves a patch of orange across the water makes you wanna grab your pen and write longhand. I'll leave the light on for ya.

Panda in Chief said...

Oh my! I love that map. It makes me want to make some maps myself!

Colin's comments about writers judging other writers reminded me of something I have observed over the years with painters. Rare is the painter who will walk into a home or gallery where his/her paintings are displayed with those by other people, and not walk directly to their own painting, ignoring everyone else's. Mr. Badger often says that I am rare, because I will look at other people's paintings. Of course I do look at mine first, but it just proves Colin's point.

Anonymous said...

Lee Child is another writer who has said his "first" draft is the final draft. Some writers just edit as they go. Hell, with short pieces, I often edit in my head before I even put the words onto the screen. It's just a different process. Neither is right or wrong, you just do what works for you.

As for sharing work online, I think you need to decide why you're doing it. I put an entire 27K novella on my blog (it was supposed to be a 2-3K short story, but... stories decide how long they need to be). I did it as a GIFT for my long-term blog readers. Yes, I ended up also self-pubbing it on AMZ and other platforms because people said they wanted it in ebook form. I was surprised when several people bought it.

I did not do it thinking I would ever submit it to be published elsewhere. I did not do it to get writing feedback, although the comments were lovely and a nice ego boost. I did not do it hoping for big sales numbers. I did it as a gift, hoping people would enjoy it. But I also did it to increase exposure. Obscurity is a writer's greatest enemy. I can tell you that the number of people who subscribe to my blog increased by seven times over what they were before I did that (yes, there were 3 and now there are 21-- or something). Will any of those people someday buy a story of mine? I have no idea. But there are that many more people who were interested enough in my writing to follow my blog.

[And I just deleted the rest of my comment, which went on and on, inappropriately, like this was my own blog. Heh. Self-restraint, I haz it. Sometimes.]

Anonymous said...

oh my gosh this is a great day. Amy just read "The End" to me on Far Rider and I thought, "You know, that's a pretty good story. It's time to send it out to eighty agents!"

Then I come back here to putz around and Janet is going ballistic over le map.

Too funny.


Neither is right or wrong, you just do what works for you.--Yep.

Donnaeve said...

Holy Mapoli! I was so focused on the shitty/crappy discussion I missed the map!

Love me some maps. Love me that map in particular.

Colin Smith said...

Did someone say writing contest with a lovely book for a prize...? :D

Suzan Lauder said...

Just as my first novel was, my work-in-progress will be posted online in full prior to publishing. I firmly believe my fans, who helped me get my start, deserve to see it first.

I'm not sure about who these 98% of authors are that work to a deadline. Most authors I know work at the pace that is best for them, though a few pump out material like an assembly line, with similar generic quality. Now, I only know maybe 100 authors, so I may be naive.

My publisher doesn't pay advances, so I submit each time. They have no problem with my sharing the unedited version, but won't assign an editor until I've completed publishing it on the free online site. My publisher gives the authors the option of leaving the original, warts and all, on the fan website after release. My publisher is not the only publisher that allows this. I know of a number of books that still sell well 7 years later while there's a free version available on a fan site.

There are about 30-40 new releases in my genre each month. I'd guess about 80% of those are author-published. About half use full novel previews to drum up excitement about the release.

KU readers often buy the book if they like it. A group of online readers can become a dedicated fan base prior to publication.

In this community, an unknown author can expect immediate sales. A popular author will hit #1 in Kindle sales in several categories in the first few weeks. The assembly-liners are making almost 6 figures.

If big publishers and agents think exciting a fan base by sharing a novel is harmful, it's no surprise they wonder where their business has been going these last months. A new rule book has been written. The scales are tipping in favour of those who react quickly to the market and don't rely on antiquated paradigms.

Unknown said...

Contest? Map book for prize? When? I am SO in.

Marc P said...

ps @Suzanne.... I said writers.. not authors. Professionals.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oh my goodness, THE MAP!!

I once attended a cartography workshop at World Con. Most important thing I learned?

Most people start their maps by drawing the outside border. That's actually the wrong way to do it. You are supposed to start in the middle with what you know and work your way out.

DLM said...

A contest for THAT book is the one contest I would brave to try for the prize.

Anonymous said...

In your experience, how do editors and agents respond to posted video of the author reading the story (prior to submission of the manuscript)?

I've come across writing competitions that don't publish any of the winning work but do post videos of the authors reading their pieces. The manuscripts are unpublished but short pieces such as picture book stories, poems, and the like are read in their entirety.